Column: “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” is a disappointing read

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez, Opinions Writer

Editor’s note: This writer uses “Latine” as a gender-neutral word for people of Latin American descent. Some people prefer this term as it is easier to pronounce than “Latinx,” another popular gender-neutral term.

 

I recently read “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” by Jennifer De Leon. Despite how much I tried to like it, it was a disappointing read for me.

The story follows Liliana, a Guatemalan-Salvadoran teenage girl, as she transitions from her diverse Boston school to a predominantly white one through a program called METCO.

She deals with the typical issues that come with attending a new school but being a new student at Westburg High also forces her to navigate her identity as a Latine child of immigrants.

She’s also dealing with some family issues: her father has just been deported and is trying to find a way back to the United States.

The book was recommended to me by my older sister, who read it for one of her sociology classes. She thought I would resonate with it considering I am a Latine student who attends a primarily white institution and is passionate about social issues.

Unfortunately, I did not like this novel very much.

I will start off by saying it wasn’t a totally painful read.

I think the book does a good job of explaining the sorts of issues people of color face by providing the reader with many realistic experiences.

Reading it made me understand why my sister, who is studying to become a high school counselor, had to read this book for class.

The people my sister is studying with will need this type of knowledge to help them better understand their students, the sorts of issues they face, and the help they need.

The book was definitely not written for me, someone who already knows what it is like being a person of color. It was written for the people who don’t.

As a Latine, I’m so happy to see a Young Adult novel that represents many different Latine cultures.

But as an English major, I just can’t ignore bad writing when I see it.

The book was boring. The characters and the sorts of issues they face didn’t draw me in as much as I thought they would.

One thing that I love about books is the way that one can connect with the characters because they feel so real. When it comes to this novel, De Leon’s characters are so two-dimensional that I was left not really caring what happens to them.

It seems like De Leon wrote this book simply to address the social issues each character faces while not bothering to give any of the characters the depth that would make them seem human.

Also, the book reads more like a stream of consciousness, with Liliana going through her day almost as if writing in her diary, so it lacks scenes and dialogue for the most part.

I wish that De Leon would have followed one of the basic rules of writing: Show, don’t tell.

But De Leon’s general lack of interesting dialogue, concrete imagery, and moving scenes added to my already lack of interest in the novel.

Also, De Leon tried to fill the book with slang used by teenagers today, but ultimately failed.

A lot of the terms were used incorrectly or awkwardly, making it obvious that the book wasn’t written by someone who knows what it’s like being a teenager today.

Though I think De Leon’s dialogue for the teenage characters is pretty realistic (much better than John Green having sixteen-year-olds speak like walking thesauruses), it is pretty cringy, for lack of a better word.

I hate being a hater, especially considering how incredibly ambitious this book is.

Though I appreciate what De Leon did with her novel, I don’t think it was executed to the best of its ability. The important message gets lost because I can’t get past the bad writing.

There are books out there that showcase the experiences of Latine people while still using the storytelling tools that make a story worth reading. Unfortunately, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is not one of them.

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez is a junior English major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]